Summary: The association between depression, anxiety and cancer risk has been a point of contention in scientific circles. In an new study a multi-national team refutes the idea that these mental health conditions are linked to most types of cancer.
They found only a slight correlation with lung and smoking-related cancers, which was significantly reduced after controlling for lifestyle factors. This suggests that unhealthy behaviors associated with anxiety or depression, like smoking, could be the real drivers of increased risk.
- The analysis found no substantial link between depression, anxiety and most types of cancer in a study population across the Netherlands, UK, Norway, and Canada.
- The team found a slight association with lung and smoking-related cancers which was significantly reduced after accounting for lifestyle factors.
- This suggests the importance of addressing unhealthy behaviors potentially arising from mental health conditions in the context of cancer risk.
Depression and anxiety are thought to increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, but research results have been inconclusive.
In an analysis of multiple studies from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Canada, investigators found that depression and anxiety are not linked to higher risks for most types of cancer among this population.
The analysis is published by Wiley online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Experts have suspected that depression and anxiety may increase cancer risk by affecting a person’s health-related behaviors or by having biological effects on the body that support cancer development. Some research has supported an association between depression, anxiety, and cancer incidence, while other investigations have found no or negligible associations.
To provide additional insights, Lonneke A. van Tuijl, PhD, of the University Medical Center Groningen, and her colleagues examined data from the international Psychosocial Factors and Cancer Incidence consortium, which includes information from 18 prospective study groups with more than 300,000 adults from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Canada.
The team found no associations between depression or anxiety and overall, breast, prostate, colorectal, and alcohol-related cancers during a follow-up of up to 26 years.
The presence of depression or anxiety was linked with a 6% higher risk of developing lung cancer and smoking-related cancers, but this risk was substantially reduced after adjusting for other cancer-related risk factors including smoking, alcohol use, and body mass index.
Therefore, this analysis supports the importance of addressing tobacco smoking and other unhealthy behaviors including those that may develop as a result of anxiety or depression.
“Our results may come as a relief to many patients with cancer who believe their diagnosis is attributed to previous anxiety or depression,” said Dr. van Tuijl. “However, further research is needed to understand exactly how depression, anxiety, health behaviors, and lung cancer are related.”
About this cancer and mental health research news
Original Research: Open access.
“Depression, anxiety, and the risk of cancer: An individual participant data meta-analysis” by Lonneke A. van Tuijl et al. Cancer
Depression, anxiety, and the risk of cancer: An individual participant data meta-analysis
Depression and anxiety have long been hypothesized to be related to an increased cancer risk. Despite the great amount of research that has been conducted, findings are inconclusive. To provide a stronger basis for addressing the associations between depression, anxiety, and the incidence of various cancer types (overall, breast, lung, prostate, colorectal, alcohol-related, and smoking-related cancers), individual participant data (IPD) meta-analyses were performed within the Psychosocial Factors and Cancer Incidence (PSY-CA) consortium.
The PSY-CA consortium includes data from 18 cohorts with measures of depression or anxiety (up to N = 319,613; cancer incidences, 25,803; person-years of follow-up, 3,254,714). Both symptoms and a diagnosis of depression and anxiety were examined as predictors of future cancer risk. Two-stage IPD meta-analyses were run, first by using Cox regression models in each cohort (stage 1), and then by aggregating the results in random-effects meta-analyses (stage 2).
No associations were found between depression or anxiety and overall, breast, prostate, colorectal, and alcohol-related cancers. Depression and anxiety (symptoms and diagnoses) were associated with the incidence of lung cancer and smoking-related cancers (hazard ratios [HRs], 1.06–1.60). However, these associations were substantially attenuated when additionally adjusting for known risk factors including smoking, alcohol use, and body mass index (HRs, 1.04–1.23).
Depression and anxiety are not related to increased risk for most cancer outcomes, except for lung and smoking-related cancers. This study shows that key covariates are likely to explain the relationship between depression, anxiety, and lung and smoking-related cancers.